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Reviewed by:
  • Edwidge Danticat: A Reader’s Guide ed. by Martin Munro
  • Tomaz Cunningham
Edwidge Danticat: A Reader’s Guide. Edited by Martin Munro, foreword by Dany Laferrière. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010. 232 pp. $22.50 paperback.

Edwidge Danticat: A Reader’s Guide, edited by Martin Munro, is a collection of fourteen essays followed by a personal interview with Edwidge Danticat and a thorough bibliography on her work. Divided into four sections, the reader’s guide addresses all of Danticat’s writing from her first highly-acclaimed and controversial novel Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994) up to and including the moving personal memoir Brother, I’m Dying (2007). Lesser known portions of Danticat’s work, such as her young adult fiction and travel writing, are addressed in this reader by academics, literary critics, and fellow writers of Caribbean fiction. Together, these fourteen essays provide a thorough and current perspective on the work of an incredibly prolific writer whose personal story is one Munro describes as “that of modern Haiti” (25).

The first section of the book, entitled “Contexts,” contains four essays, which attempts to examine both Edwidge Danticat’s personal life and her writing as they relate to Haitian, Caribbean, and African-American literature (11). “Inside Out: A Brief Biography of Edwidge Danticat,” a biographical essay by Munro, traces certain aspects of Danticat’s life from her youth in Duvalierist Haiti to her immigration to Brooklyn, New York and later relocation to Miami. Munro notes that Danticat’s connection to Haiti has largely been a result of the migrant Haitian communities that she has been able to find in the United States. Munro also names some of Danticat’s literary influences, both Haitian and African-American, and traces her growth as a writer from Eyes, Breath Memory to The Dew Breaker (2004), the latter of which he describes as “Danticat’s most accomplished work to date” (23). Similarly, essays by J. Michael Dash (“Danticat and her Haitian Precursors”) and Carine Mardorossian (“Danticat and Caribbean Women Writers”) examine Danticat’s work in the context of Haitian and Caribbean literature and explore how Danticat’s writing both fits into and expands certain constructions of identity (national identity, gender, [End Page 311] class and race for example) normally accepted in Caribbean literary expression. The most ambitious essay in this section is “Danticat and The African American Women’s Literary Tradition,” in which Régine-Michelle Jean-Charles compares Danticat’s writing with African-American women’s writing. This essay seeks in some way to explain Danticat’s self-identification as an African-Haitian American (AHA) woman and writer and explore how this identity impacts her writing. According to Jean-Charles, Danticat’s writing shares certain themes common to African-American women’s writing, such as “healing from sexual violence, close-knit female relationships, silence and voice” and “the transformative power of reading and writing” (59). However, Jean-Charles also notes that race does not play such a crucial role in Danticat’s work as it does in the literary tradition of most African-American women writers. Other factors, such as nationality, language and the common experience of immigration inform the identity of Danticat’s subjects as much as issues of race (58).

“Texts and Analyses,” the second section, is the most useful portion of the work from a standpoint of literary criticism. This section examines the entire corpus of Danticat’s novels, young adult fiction, and travel writing. In “Writing Young: Danticat’s Young Adult Fiction,” Kiera Voclavik examines Behind the Mountains (2002) and Anacaona (2005), noting that the recurrent themes of exile, violence and sadness that characterize Danticat’s writing are as present in Danticat’s young adult fiction as they are in her fiction for mature audiences. The understandable absence of the adult theme of sexual relations make Danticat’s young adult fiction an effective way to introduce young non-Haitian readers to Danticat’s culture and history. In his essay “Traveling, Writing: Danticat’s After the Dance,” Charles Forsdick explores Edwidge Danticat’s only attempt at travel writing. Citing literary critics such as James Clifford (author of Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, 1997) and...